Review: Martin Mull takes a surreal trip back to the Atomic Age

Will we never tire of revisiting the middle of the last century? Between “Mad Men” and the craze for Midcentury Modern everything, we seem to be gorging on nostalgia for the Atomic Age.

Painter (and actor and comic) Martin Mull’s work has long mined the darker side of this era, and his new exhibition at Samuel Freeman continues in that vein. His large black-and-white paintings and a suite of graphite drawings are often surreal mashups of commercial imagery and found photographs.

They’re not bad, nor are they particularly exciting. In “Family Man” the titular character stands outside a suburban house wearing clown makeup as a nude woman turns away from him and a child scowls. Oh, the hapless father who makes everyone unhappy. It’s like a portrait of a sitcom.

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In “Moving Day,” circus performers appear to walk on a telephone wire strung across a rural street at twilight. It’s a funny juxtaposition, but despite its title doesn’t really go anywhere.

Mull fares better when he isn’t trying so hard. “Witnesses” depicts a small group of people huddled together in front of a tract home. The mysterious image, so high-contrast that whatever they are looking at is hidden in shadow, has a quiet menace and speaks to the unreliability of the photographic record.

The same goes for a couple of lovely, murky drawings of reclining women that capture the gray, gauzy look of semi-darkness.

Samuel Freeman, 2639 S. La Cienega Blvd., (310) 425-8601, through Dec. 14. Closed Sundays and Mondays.


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